The art of branching

July 2, 2012 § 8 Comments

I had a Skype chat earlier with an Italian teacher who came across Language Garden on Facebook just a few days ago, and immediately grasped the concept. She got it, intuitively, it appealed at an emotional level, but she wanted to understand the rationale, the theory, left-brain understanding.

So for her, and anyone else who likes the colourful bendy words and somewhere inside, you feel they make sense but you can’t quite put it into words, please watch this simple, two-minute video showing a couple of things.

It’s for learners of English, how to use “for” and “since” after the present perfect. As we teachers know, it often causes confusion. This language plant is for language learners, perhaps ones you teach. Secondly, it’s a typical language plant in the sense that words branch off from different nodes so, in my eyes, it really does look like a little tree made of words.

Branching reduces the repetition of unnecessary words, not when we say them, but when we write them. So instead of a list running down the page that I find uneasy on the eye, you get a bushy plant, and you can pick and choose your route as you go. That’s really the essence of language plants. Well, the ones I make 😉


The king is dead…

June 25, 2012 § 14 Comments

“The king is dead!
Long live the king!”

For quite a few years, I have been the world’s leading expert, some might say the king of language plants. It wasn’t difficult, seeing as the royal household consisted solely of me, with no apparent heirs to the throne. Behind the castle walls, whilst the garden was adorned with beauty and gave me immense satisfaction, it was an existence lived in solitude.

But my! how things have changed! Like a desert land, barren and forlorn, bursting into life at the first drop of rain, the language garden is starting to flourish, and it is with immense pleasure that I remove my crown and pass it on to others, as a mark of their skill, creativity and passion.

The Language Garden Facebook group is the perfect place for language gardeners to congregate. You can post your latest work of art, step back and watch the comments flood in, gushing with praise and friendship. Here is just a small selection of their work that has really made my eyes wide with excitement over the last few days. I hope they inspire you to join in with the fun. You are most welcome.

I want to make a language plant too!

Visit the Facebook Group

I really should see more of these beautiful works of art!

These are fantastic! Can I make one too, please!

Don’t you think these are wonderful? They’ve come from all over the world! And don’t forget, if you’d like some Free resources, you can get those too. Hope to see you soon 🙂

Reap what you sow

June 17, 2012 § 7 Comments

“If you have plans for a year, sow rice.
If you have them for a decade, plant trees.
If you have them for all your life, educate a person.”
Chinese saying

I like it when art brushes against science, when science questions art. The two seem to go hand in hand.

Making the Spanish plant earlier today, as I pieced together the words, I was looking for rules, inquiring about structure. Here are some of the things that caught my attention, and which made me think about how I wanted to express them.

“Arroz” and “árboles” both start with “ar”, although “árboles” has an accent, which I’ve positioned high up off the “a” so it doesn’t attach to “arroz”.

“Para” and “por” are variants of each other. I don’t know what the rule is but I’ve learned the phrases as chunks; perhaps it’s based on singular or plural. It doesn’t seem to be whether it’s masculine or feminine, because “vida” and “año” both take “para”.

The imperative seems to end in “a”: “planta”, “siembra”, “educa”. I decided to share this letter, and make it big to emphasise this rule (and allow the three verbs to fit nicely into it).

The pronoun “los”, substituting for “planes” comes before the verb. You can choose one or the other of the (pro)nouns, the blue words, but not both together.

Language plants are scientific. They aim to demonstrate rules, linguistic rules.

A piece of art has no reason for being, other than to exist as itself, and give pleasure. Language plants certainly brighten up my life, and they seem to make others smile too, which I find immensely gratifying.

So whether you’re first and foremost an artist or whether you’re a scientist, please consider making a language plant with the plant maker, and popping it in the new Language Gardening facebook group for everyone to go “ooh” and “aah”, like María Inés has so kindly done. It’s her very first plant as well! A big round of applause for her, don’t you think (if you’re a scientist), or feel (if you’re an artist)?

For Sylvia

June 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

“They must often change,
who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”

“It’s my first time to be truly amazed by visual teaching since I discovered mind mapping ten years ago…!!”

This post is inspired by Sylvia Guinan, who wrote the line above on Facebook, about Language Garden.

Well, as you can imagine, such a comment sent tingles to my toes. I know how she feels though, because, by heavens! I remember to this day my first encounter with mind maps too.

Sign up for Free Resources

People coming to The Mind Map Book for the first time are, through perhaps years of study with solely linear texts, mostly unaware of non-linear representations of knowledge. The book does a clever thing: it makes you commit yourself to your old ways, ingrained habits, and then voilà! it reveals to you another, unexpected, and highly impressive, artistic, holistic alternative.

I fell for it. It said: “In two minutes, write down everything you can about Space Travel.”

I took up the challenge, my pen a blur, the words barely legible as I attempted to put down all I could summon up before the second-hand ticked round twice.

Sign up for Free Resources

I turned the page, as it said, and was presented with a mind map, another way of writing, presenting, flowing. With the main topics branching off from the central idea, you can jump back and forth between ideas, and build up a complete picture. This method smashed to smithereens the myth I had unwittingly adhered to that learning starts at the beginning and stops at the end.

I loved their organic nature, the way they grew and connected. I was smitten. Thence, via the Lexical Approach, which my new rap buddy Jason Levine loves too, to language plants. So how about making a mind map, using the plant maker if you wish (just click on the blank page and start typing), on a subject of your choosing? Here’s mine, retracing those original steps which changed my vision forever.

Make me a Mind Map

Roll up, roll up!

June 13, 2012 § 4 Comments

“Tell me and I will forget,
show me and I may remember,
involve me and I will understand.”

You may have already heard this saying from Confucius. I think many, most of us as teachers would subscribe to it, and recognise it in aspects of our teaching.

It’s one of the language plants in the Introduction to the Free Resources, which you can get by simply signing up here:

Sign up for Free Resources

Below is the first page of the free resources. Six titles, each just a page with a little language plant and a bit of explanation. If you look closely, you can see Confucius sitting patiently waiting for you.

Hold on, Confucius, I’m coming!

Then there’s the Grammar course. Again, nice and interactive, involving the learners. The image below is the main page, with coloured leaves representing the different word classes. (In all the language plants I make, nouns are blue, verbs red etc.)

I fancy having some colourful grammar lessons

Finally, there’s a sample of six different lessons, or units, each with about 10 activities, where you can watch and listen to the words growing, do puzzles and painting activities (just the words, and you won’t get your nice clothes dirty), and much more. Each unit has 2 or 3 hours’ work. Well, it’s not so much work, more like play. But serious play. Play work.

I want to play! I mean work.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old;
we grow old because we stop playing.”
George Bernard Shaw

The simple things in life

June 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

“It is always the simple
that produces the marvellous.”
Amelia Barr

As they say, it’s the simple things in life that bring pleasure.

Language plants are simple things really, just bending and branching and wafting in the breeze. But some people think they’re marvellous. Here’s an email I got recently, with just a couple of changes to keep their identity secret.

“Dear David,

I would be writing this, even if we hadn’t met a few days ago. I was going through my file looking for bits and bobs, and I came across your business card. From there to your website. And it’s brilliant.

The product is just so engaging, and the story of you learning Luo took me back 12 years to my time in SE Asia where I was learning Lao, and trying to do similar things with Post-its on the wall of my wooden stilt house. The organic links and paths appeal so strongly.

To the same degree I was impressed with the site itself. Simple. Straightforward. And an interactive experience in itself, rather than mere information-giving. I love the personal testimony of teachers, and the videos of Language Garden in action.

My son is 5 years old, and beginning to feel his way into the world of reading and writing. This would be such a fun activity for him to play around with. Have you considered working with Early Years practitioners and developing the product for this area? And here I mean for native speakers. I might show it to his teacher and see what she thinks. Other ideas that came to me while I was browsing – specific areas such as Academic Writing, Business English (expanding upon the ‘Project Activity’), and other ESP areas.

Forgive my suggestions. I’m sure they are things you’ve explored already. It’s just that I tend to get excited about things like this, and I’m still in my first hour of knowing Language Garden.”

Lovely, don’t you think?

If you’d like to try a really quick but wonderful activity, just click here. It’s based on the poem and language plant below, one of my favourites, by Rabindraneth Tajore.

“The animal on the land is noisy,
the fish in the air is silent,
the bird in the air is singing.
But man has in him
the noise of the earth,
the silence of the sea
and the music of the air.”
Rabindraneth Tajore

Dogme and Game Theory

May 17, 2012 § 19 Comments

“To see a world in a grain of sand,
and heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
and eternity in an hour.”
William Blake

I remember when I was young, play tig in the playground at school, I don’t know what you call it, it would be nice to find out, just the game where you’re “on” and you chase after the others till you catch one, then they’re on, and they chase after you, ahh, happy days, once while playing this I remember getting sucked into a vortex of infinity.

I was running away, towards and then behind the toilet block. Hidden from view, I could carry on running all the way round, hoping to outrun my chaser, but I realised the chaser could be clever, and veer off to the left to head me off at the other side as I reappeared, literally running into his arms and being caught. You know the situation, I’m sure. So you stop, don’t you, and double back. But they can be smart too, knowing you’ll do this, so they carry on in the original direction. So you better carry on too. Only they’ll work this out, and head you off. In another universe, I’m still stuck there, not knowing which way to run.

The science of trying to work out what your opponent will do in such situations, or “games”, and then using this knowledge to influence your own behaviour, is called Game Theory. It’s not just concerned with trivialities. Far from it; in fact, its theories are applied across all human endeavours. The nuclear arms race between the US and USSR was one such game where each kept on building up their arsenals far beyond the point of oblivion. Such colossal spending trying to keep up was a major factor in the collapse of communism.

In ELT, publishers operate in much the same way, grafting on every conceivable feature to their new coursebook, such that they have workbooks and ebooks and websites and cds and dvds. Teachers can get sucked into the game inadvertently, judging the quality of a resource simply by how many shopping trolleys they need to get between classrooms.

Scott says “Stop! Stop playing this foolish game.” The only winners are the arms manufacturers. In a recent post of his, F is for Fractal, we see the possibilities and joys of working with and exploring a short text.

Of course, if we are going to limit the amount of materials we use in class, the impact and resourcefulness of the ones we do choose should shine brightly.

That’s what Language Garden is committed to doing at

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
Albert Einstein